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Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser mails it in from Mississippi

Hours before an Algonquin Township Board meeting where officials planned to revisit unpaid road salt bills that led to an alleged salt shortage emergency, a FedEx package arrived at the supervisor's office.

It was from Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser.

Inside the package was a multiple-page list of road district bills Gasser wants trustees to review and approve at the meeting, along with signatures to attest those bills.

Tracking data showed Gasser dropped off the package at 2:05 p.m. Tuesday at a FedEx Office Print and Ship Center almost 800 miles away in Madison, Mississippi.

Gasser could not be reached for comment on how long he'd been in Mississippi or if he is still there.

At least one township official contends the road commissioner should stay in the Magnolia State.

"If it would make Andrew happier to move to Mississippi, and he would like to suggest a replacement for him in the highway department, I would accept his resignation," Trustee Dave Chapman said. "The conversations we've had tell me that would make him happy. I doubt being in Algonquin Township makes him happy. Why do I expect that? He spends a lot of time down there."

He sent the FedEx package from Mississippi on the same day he signed his name to an affidavit filed in McHenry Court court that warned he might have to close down roads is he runs out of salt.

“I may be forced to close the various roads of the road district due to the inability to salt the road to ensure public safety,” Gasser said.

The affidavit was part of an emergency motion Gasser's Woodstock attorney Robert Hanlon filed in an attempt to “command” the township board to approve a $107,000 payment for 1,161 tons of salt from Compass Minerals, the Kansas company Gasser is accused of hiring without going through a mandatory biding process.

On Gasser's personal Facebook page, there’s a photo of him wearing a Mississippi State hat and a tag: #HAILSTATE. A web page recently popped up on ResearchGate that shows Gasser is a student at the school in Starkville, a Mississippi city 720 miles away from Algonquin Township offices.

The Northwest Herald used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Gasser’s road district calendar and learned the road commissioner has spent time off in Mississippi.

In Madison, where Gasser sent the package to the township Tuesday, the temperature hit a high of 67 degrees. Meanwhile, McHenry County residents have been dealing with wintry weather conditions and drifting snow that led to multiple road closures Tuesday night.

In court Wednesday, township attorney James Kelly said Gasser could acquire additional salt from other municipalities if there truly was an emergency.

"He is attempting, through this motion, to ratify an unlawful contract," Kelly said. "That's all that it is."

State law states that when the cost of construction, materials, supplies, new machinery or equipment exceeds $20,000, the contract must go to the lowest responsible bidder.

Judge Thomas Meyer called the issue at the heart of Wednesday's hearing a "political question" that is better suited for local government than a court room.

"Why is it an emergency if he can get it from other jurisdictions?" Meyer asked.

Hanlon suggested continuing the hearing for two weeks so Gasser could explore the option, but the judge refused and denied Gasser's request without prejudice.

"That tells me it's not an emergency," Meyer said. "Entering a continuance seems pointless because if it's not an emergency now, how is it going to be an emergency in two weeks?"

The Algonquin Township board will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its offices, 3702 Route 14.

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